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High Speed Rail Needs To Get Boost In America

October 4, 2009

I think one of the reasons Chicago did not fare so well in their Olympic dreams was the lack of high speed rail in the region to allow for the required transportation needs.  Certianly that would have been a factor in southern Wisconsin and around the Madison area where the biking events had been slated to take place.  There is no doubt that Europe and other parts of the world are far ahead of us with  this goal.  It is time Wisconsin and the rest of the nation ramp it up, and get more money invested into this piece of our infastructure that will not only create jobs, but also serve the environment as we struggle with climate change.

For years, businesspeople and politicians have dreamed about America entering the high-speed era, but Amtrak has been plagued by budget and service problems and the closest Americans have come to high speed is the Acela, which rarely runs at what Europeans call high speed.

Now Siemens and its competitors are hoping all that has changed. The economic stimulus passed by Congress in April includes a five-year, $13 billion high-speed rail program. Siemens is one of four makers of high-speed trains, none of them based in the United States, that hopes to take advantage of it.

Siemens executives said the tilt toward political acceptance of high-speed rail in the United States presented a remarkable business opportunity — assuming the systems get built.

The United States “is a developing country in terms of rail,” Ansgar Brockmeyer, head of public transit business for Siemens, said in an interview aboard the Russian test train, as wooden country homes and birch forests flickered by outside the window. “We are seeing it as a huge opportunity.”

To position itself to compete in the United States, Siemens has placed employees from its high-speed train division at its Sacramento factory, which produces city trams.

Siemens’s new train — the Sapsan, Russian for peregrine falcon — is a candidate for the high-speed link planned between San Francisco and Los Angeles that may open in 2020. Alstom, the maker of the French TGV trains, and Bombardier are also contenders. Japanese bullet train designs by Hitachi, which are lighter but less secure in a low-speed crash, the only type of collisions survivable, are another option.

The technological breakthrough of the Sapsan is that the train has no locomotive. Instead, electric motors are attached to wheels all along the train cars, as on some subway trains. (Passengers sit in the first car too.) Its top operating speed is 217 miles an hour, though in tests this model has reached 255 miles an hour, or about half the cruising speed of some jet airplanes.

In Russia, it took a decade of on-again, off-again talks before Siemens signed a deal with the state railways in 2006 amid a general thaw in relations between Germany and Russia.

Here as elsewhere, high-speed trains will compete with airlines. The 401-mile trip from downtown Moscow to downtown St. Petersburg will be 3 hours and 45 minutes. The average flying travel time is five hours, including the trips to and from the airport, check-in and security clearance.

The four-times-a-day service will trim 45 minutes from the fastest train service now. To achieve this, the Russian state railway spent $485 million upgrading the track and $926 million for eight Sapsan trains and a 30-year service agreement, at today’s exchange rates.

In other countries, high-speed trains have roundly beaten planes on price, overall travel time and convenience at ranges up to 600 miles between major cities. After high-speed trains between Paris and Lyons became well established, for example, commercial flights all but disappeared. And in the first year of operation, a Madrid-to-Barcelona high-speed link cut the air travel market about 50 percent.

In the United States — where the Department of Transportation has identified 11 high-speed corridors, including Los Angeles to San Francisco — high-speed rail would also compete with intercity car travel.

  1. October 4, 2009 10:50 AM

    I agree. I’d like to see Obama try to make high-speed rail his legacy like the interstate highway system was Eisenhower’s legacy. But I don’t think it’s going to happen.

  2. October 4, 2009 10:38 AM

    I think Chicago’s failure was also in our national immigration policies. We have made it so hard to come legally that the US position really is not very open to the world.

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